This is my story of studying Tantra Yoga during 2009-2012 at Agama Yoga on Koh Phangan, Thailand. I wrote it to inspire others to explore the subject of authentic Tantra in a full immersion environment, which makes a huge difference to the impact it creates on the life of the practitioner, as compared to doing same back home on “low fire”. At the end of this article I share tips for those who dare to take a similar path.
From Sex to Spirituality
Until age 35 I was suffering from premature ejaculation. In year 2008 I decided that I can’t continue living my life with that handicap and resolved to overcome it. After a quick research the term Tantra popped up, which promised to fix any sexual problems and make the processes of sex into a divine experience. I said: “Amazing! And thank you!” and embarked on taking any and all workshops and trainings that had anything to do with Tantra.
My first training, happened to be a Tantra massage, which was mind-opening from one angle, as far as working on sexuality in a group, yet it was very unsatisfying in the theory and practical matters that were taught there.
Luckily, my second attempt was of a totally different caliber and it put me on the path of transforming my whole being, which started with my sexuality, and later opened me to the divine in all aspects of my life. I stumbled on a training offered by Swami Vivekananda Saraswati in Vancouver, BC, where he was invited to be a guest teacher at a local yoga TTC.
Over the years of studying with Swami, I talked to many of his students. Some resonated and comprehended his teachings and the mindset better than the others. For me his teachings were very easy to absorb, integrate and accept. Perhaps this is because both he and I are Electrical Engineers by education. Jumping ahead, his system offered zero solutions of working with emotions, other than transforming them into energy and sending them to your higher self, but otherwise completely bypassing the human aspect of emotions. At that time it was just what I needed and what I was open to. Only recently I felt the need to go back and dig into the raw emotions and feelings and not use a spiritual bypass to reduce suffering (which works oh so well if you know what to do!). The beautiful thing was that Swami has always been very authentic about his offerings. He always said:
“I teach you what I know and my mindset is the mindset that I live, and some of you may or may not resonate with some or all of my teachings and my ways of being with you. And you’re very welcome to go and find other teachers that work better for you.”
There are quite a few cults out there, this isn’t one, because it failed the most important rule of cults, where the head of the group does everything to make you stay.
Back to the story. As Swami was teaching level 1 of Tantra workshop, and getting very technical about it, I quickly understood that I found what I was after and I just need to study and apply that to my life and it’s a fait accompli. But as he continued his training, offering a workshop on Metaphysics and giving several talks on topics that I would have never cared for (he talked about the science of Consecration and the magic of original Jesus), I was intrigued and attended with strong initial skepticism. And boy, were those talks mind-opening and transformative for me. By the time he taught Tantra level 2 I started to see that there is a lot more to the science of Tantra and that sex was just a doorway into something much bigger and more powerful. On the last day he gave a discourse on love and I felt my heart being open and vibrating with love. That was the last drop and I was ready to leave everything behind and follow this teacher to where he was. My mind was in and my body was even more so in.
Swami even passed my skeptical test of seeing through a slick salesman – he never once mentioned his yoga school in Thailand or suggested that anybody follow him. For 2 weeks he was just giving to us students everything he knew and lived for. That was an unusual experience for me. I had to ask him in the break about his school and what would be the best way for me to study.
A few months later I landed on Koh Phangan, Thailand, rented a bungalow and started the first month intensive, which comprises of 4 weeks of all-day classes and lectures with a break for lunch. That month was a very powerful transformative experience for me. I learned so much about yoga. And very quickly I discovered that it wasn’t the Western-style gym and stretching yoga, but yoga of working with energy. It means that we held asanas (yoga poses) for extended periods of time, while focusing on various energy flows happening in our bodies, each asana calling for different energy flows and activating different aspects of different chakras. Talking about engineering…
I attended a longer version of the Tantra workshop that Swami taught in Vancouver and embarked on learning ejaculation control, which called for developing mastery over subtle energies, so that the love making sessions could continue for as long as the lovers wanted them to and only stopping of tiredness or because one needed to go to a class or some other event. I started practicing with another beginner in yoga and she was very supportive of me with my challenge and I was making slow progresses into getting better at controlling my sexual energies.
At the same time I was seeking out advanced students and bombarding them with many questions about sexuality and in particular about their personal progress in that field. At the Tantra workshop Swami taught that it takes on average 6 months for a man to learn sexual continence. Talking to the advanced students, I learned that the length of time was somewhat exaggerated and it is very likely to take a longer time. Fast forwarding again, it took me 2 years of a stubborn effort to get there.
Advanced students aren’t allowed to engage in sex with first month students, so I had to wait to become “of age”, before I could experience what it’s like to have sex with a women, who has mastered this art. And it was oh so worth waiting for. As soon as became “eligible” I went straight to one of the women who I knew has been practicing this for years and simply asked her to teach me. She said: “with pleasure” – and pleasure it was. Imagine a man who can hardly hold it together and spilling his beans in a matter of seconds, suddenly being able to make love for hours and not even be concerned about the big worry of his masculinity. That is how the experience went. She of course did all the work of energy sublimation and her yoni muscles were able to control my excitation so I didn’t have to do anything. Of course that was, but an insight into what’s possible, and going back to make love to my lover, who was a beginner, I quickly saw that it had no impact on how well I could hold it together on my own. But being able to see that I can make love for hours without ejaculating was a huge gift of moral support and a powerful reality check against theory that could be a dream.
Some time later I spent several days with another Tantrika, and we literally made love non-stop day and night, and she was doing things to me and with me that I didn’t think were possible.
Meanwhile I have been slowly making my own progress and spending a lot of time practicing yoga of working with energies, which is done alone and doesn’t involve sexuality.
Very quickly I learned that I was in a bubble of love. I was hugged and kissed hundreds of times every day. Everybody was loving and very friendly. And if I wasn’t too concerned with my lack of sexual prowess at that time, I could have made love to many women, and so I had to decline not once, asking for a rain check.
When I was leaving the island after spending my first 3 months there, studying and practicing various aspects of Yoga and sexuality, I felt that I was in heaven. I thought that I’m going to go home and have just as an amazing experience there. It proved to be very different, since the energy of people back home was very different than mine. And since I haven’t yet “owned” my newly-found energy of bliss, I felt a painful pull down from the cloud I was on, only days earlier. It took me 2 months to be able to integrate back into the normal world and I was successful mainly through losing most of the energy I have gained during the 3 months at Agama Yoga.
I spent 3 more years at that yoga school and for 2 more years I struggled with integration back into the normal world. Only after studying for 3 years the new energetic me was solid and I completely owned that energy and when I went back home there wasn’t even a day of discomfort. Everybody around me was just fine despite us being at such different levels of vibration.
The full program takes 24 months to complete and you can only study 7 months a year, so that you will have time to integrate the new skills and energy levels. And therefore it took me 3.5 years of one short and 3 extended stays of 7-9 months to complete the full program.
In parallel with the the monthly yoga curriculum the school offered multiple workshops and retreats. For example during my last year I spent 65 days in silent retreats, about 10 days every month. Each 10 day-retreat explored and focused on deepening a different aspect of yoga. Those included Ajna chakra (3rd eye), Sahasrara chakra (crown), Kashmir Shaivism (the Shaiva Tantra), Hridaya (spiritual heart), Kundalini, Mantra Japa, etc. The range of workshops was just as amazing, starting with a variety of workshops on Tantric Sexuality, developing Masculinity and Femininity, going much deeper with Metaphysics and Kashmir Shaivism, studying Astrology, healing, and much much more. One can be easily doing 10+ hours of spiritual immersion 7-days a week.
Several times each month we had very powerful group practices. One was focused on opening our hearts and the practice consisted of 30+ people sitting in a circle, while one person was sitting in the middle and the whole group sending pure unconditional love to them. Every few minutes a new person came to sit in the middle. It was a very beautiful and powerful experience to both give and receive love in that group.
On full moons we did a very powerful “spiral meditation”, where a large group of people arranged themselves in a spiral formation, while standing and holding hands. A dynamic inspirational music was played and a powerful source of energy was run from the center of the spiral through the bodies of each person linked to the spiral. It was not uncommon to have a few beginners faint, because they couldn’t contain the energy, so powerful it was.
“Transfiguration” was probably one of the most powerful group practices at Agama. This practice involved several hours of prep work, where women prettified themselves and performed special practices to get into their Shakti (feminine) nature, while men were meditating to find and connect with their Shiva (masculine) nature. The practice itself involved a big circle of pairs, men and women sitting and facing each other and holding hands in a special way. While sitting, each man tried to connect with his ultimate masculinity, mentally transfiguring himself into Shiva and then transfiguring the woman in front of him into a divine goddess of Shakti nature. At the same time each woman attempted to transfigure herself into a divine goddess and see a divine god in front of her. Hence the transfiguration. A few minutes later all women would shift to the next male partner. And the process continued until each woman sat with each man. Sometimes we had up to 50 couples (comprised of singles and couples), and the process took up to 3 hours. If you ever wanted to experience a transcendence of the physical limitations of the opposite sex and see the divine that each one of us carries in them, independent of the external shell each one of us carries, I can’t think of a better way to accomplish that. Moreover, some of us, on our own initiate, did even more advanced versions of this practice which opened our hearts and minds even more and brought us closer to true unconditional love for each other.
There we many other weekly and monthly happenings, including various meditations, bhajans and kirtans, men and women meetings, satsangs, Q-n-As, etc.
Having spent that long in Agama Yoga community I have talked to multiple students, some who really fell in love with the offered gifts and others who struggled a lot. Probably the most important observation I made from those discussions is that many, especially men, came to Agama Yoga because they heard that they could get laid easily. What happened to most though, is that they discovered that their sexuality led them to a much bigger discovery of spirituality, where sex was but a bridge or a doorway to it.
The school has a bit of a paradox in that it doesn’t offer any sexual teachings in its core curriculum, but it does so via its famous Tantra workshops and trainings, and as a result of the latter offerings, the whole place vibrates with sexuality. Most people experiment with open relationships, for many for the first time in their life, and therefore a lot of strife happens, most of the time in the form of jealousy. I knew many people who happily “slept” with several lovers, but when one of their lovers slept with someone else they couldn’t handle that. We were taught that detachment and unconditional love are the way to stop suffering, and while this way of life indeed works amazingly well, for most people it’s an interesting concept, that’s very difficult to integrate into their real life. And remember that you don’t need to engage in anything that you haven’t been engaging back home. I went through last 3 years in the school being in a monogamous relationship, which was a very interesting experience, as most of my peers were in an open relationship.
Given the highly active sexual aspect of the community and its conflicts, probably the biggest infrastructural shortcoming of it is the lack of emotional support, which I have mentioned earlier. Basically the students are taught to sublime their emotions through powerful yogic practices, but aren’t met on the level of emotional needs. Students try to support each other where it’s possible, but often provide inadequate support, since themselves are in the same emotional “boat”. So if you are tempted to play with more than one person, watch your heart and mind and support yourself early on, before you find yourself entangled in several relationships and your heart is broken and your mind is spinning out of control.
Another important advice is how you need to relate to “advanced” students. When you’re a beginner, and you talk to someone who finished their 10th or 20th month, they are likely to appear as a God to you and you could easily fall for a false “expertise”. Indeed, they spent 10 or 20 months of studying, but how much of that has affected their human nature and ego is very questionable. The truth is that I met complete beginners, who were wise and harmonious in their life and related to others much better than those who finished the whole program. And vice versa. So don’t let the seniority full you, this is not a math school, where skills are acquired fast. For some it could take many years to transform. That’s said, do reach out to advanced students because they can be very knowledgeable at helping you to find your way and solve personal and spiritual problems, that peers in your class might not be able to help with. Just don’t loose common sense. It’s that simple.
And then there are the scandals. I don’t think I have seen many spiritual schools where there wasn’t at least one scandal involving a teacher and his students, often of a sexual nature. Some of those are of a true abuse and power misuse, others are invented stories from unhappy and revengeful students. Often it’s difficult to tell which is which. The bottom line is the same – there is a conflict that needs to be resolved.
At Agama there are both kinds. Some happen due to an abuse of “self-elected authority” when a “I did that many months of training” person engages sexually with “I’m new here” member of the opposite sex, which I discussed earlier. Others happen when a student experiences something beautiful and powerful, usually a really amazing sexual experience or a healing. They then of course want more of it and for one reason or the other they don’t get it, and so they stump their feet and tell the world how they were taken advantage of, when in fact it’s them who is taking advantage of the situation. This typically happens between a more “advanced” man having sex with a “beginner” woman, but it does occasionally happen the other way around.
Regardless of your gender, at Agama it’s very unlikely that you’d be forced into a sexual experience without you saying ‘yes’ to begin with. So please use your power of discrimination and if at any moment you feel it’s not going the way you want it to go — stop and leave. If however your boundaries were crossed and in the moment of passion you missed that event, stop as soon as possible, acknowledge the part you played in it, and tell how you feel and leave. Of course if it comes to any force used against you, you need to report this to authorities, no doubt about it, but it’s very unlikely it’d come to that. If you experienced an amazing sex and want more of it, and you don’t get it, regardless of the reason, please don’t blame the person you had the experience with. This is just normal life and different people have different needs and priorities. If you are afraid you won’t be able to control yourself and will try to get that person to have sex with you no matter what, simply don’t engage in sex with them in first place. So many conflicts happened because people don’t know themselves and it’s unfortunate.
Beyond sex I have listened to too many reports of students getting into conflicts because they forget that a yoga school, such as Agama Yoga, is not any different from your home town. There are some beautiful souls and there are some dark elements. Don’t leave your common sense at the gateway of the school and chances are very low that anything negative would happen to you. And if you take risks and jump into deep water, be ready to encounter things you weren’t expecting. That’s just how this universe wired, and hopefully you have enough of life experience to know this simple reality of life.
I dedicated a big chunk of this article to potential challenges not because you’re bound to run into many of those, but because this is often what stands out and what you hear as rumors on the Internet. Therefore I felt it was important to address those.
After completing the 4-year program I participated in several advanced student intensive retreats, each being an amazing experience and would require a separate article to describe, so much was going on there.
The most important highlight of my studies at Agama was the introduction to and deepening of the understanding of Kashmir Shaivism, which I feel I was extremely blessed to have been exposed to and I’m so grateful for the mental and the energetic transmissions of that tradition I received from Swami.
I’m writing this article 5 years since the completion of the program and I’m still engaged in self-study and practice of Kashmir Shaivism. It has become an inseparable part of my life. My only regret is that I couldn’t get more time with Swami as an advanced student, since he is busy with too many other things. As a result of that I didn’t stay at the school beyond the advanced program. In retrospect, this obstacle served me wall, as it forced me to get out of the bubble, where it was too easy not to do much and to have too much fun. Instead, I had to go back into the world and integrate what I have learned into a normal, so unlike that bubble, life in the West. It was a difficult, at times seemingly impossible challenge, but as of recent, my understanding and experience of a different from the mainstream society reality taught by Kashmir Shaivism happily coexists with me being in the normal society and there is no contradiction between the two, precisely as the sages of lore have instructed.
The other reason I really didn’t want to stay at Agama, after the program was completed, has to do with a cultural clash with the locals. Thais, like most Asians, have the traditional training at not “losing face” no matter what, which lends itself to a seemingly awesome experience, when you encounter them briefly (“Thais are so friendly!”), and which badly backfires when you share space with them for months at a time. This is because eventually all those pent up emotions blow up in your face. Hence it’s very difficult to connect with locals and you can’t avoid the interaction if you live there for more than a few weeks. I have acquired a few local Thai friends and they honestly shared how they bear “farongs” (foreigners), because it’s beneficial to their pockets, and how difficult it is for them to accept a very different way of being and acting the “farongs” bring with them; in particular sexuality, which they can’t help, but to see and, even more so, hear in the vicinity of the Agama Yoga campus, where the students live (and love). One can close their eyes on that friction for a while, but over time it was very draining for me.
Thank you Swami, thank you Agama Yoga, thank you everybody who came on my path during those years in Thailand. It was a very beautiful transformative experience for me and I have a hunch it set me up for a spiritual journey for the rest of my life.
Since it has been more than 5 years since I studied there it’s hard for me to tell whether what I shared here is still the same. You may have to talk to the current students to learn the most up-to-date state of things. For more information on the current offerings please see: AgamaYoga.com.
There are very few places in the world where such a deep immersion into the world of authentic Tantra is possible. Agama Yoga is one of them, but there are others. When I discover such places I list them in How and Where to Study Shaiva Tantra.
Thank you for reading, and I hope my sharing was both inspiring and educative.
If you have enjoyed this article you may want to read more on this topic:
- 112 Ways to High States of Consciousness Without Doing Anything Special – The Secrets of Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.
- How Tantric Is Tantric Sex?
The illustration in this article: Tantrik Yogi at Banaras 1958, photograph © by Richard Lannoy (from Philip S. Rawson – Tantra).